Andrew Smith kicks off this new series of adventures with a terrific story that turns what was a bit of a wet squib of an adversary into something quite terrifying. Forget all that “the Voord are the precursors of the Cybermen” nonsense from the DWM strip – well, keep it in your personal continuity by all means, but don’t expect this to tie into it in any way, shape or form – and enjoy discovering what exactly the Voord look like, how they operate their society… and how they deal with threats. None of the answers is particularly pleasant.
Although the Early Adventures have been seen by many as a new version of the much-missed Companion Chronicles, they’re far nearer in format to the majority of the Lost Stories, where the actors who play the companions recreate their own roles, as well as those of any missing colleagues, and also provide narration. This means that for this story, William Russell plays both the Doctor and Ian, while Carole Ann Ford is Susan and Barbara. Smith cannily copies the format of the series itself, allowing some of the actors “a week or two off for holiday” during the story; we know that the characters can’t be killed off but even so there’s more of an air of jeopardy than you might expect.
Smith also copies the series’, and particularly Terry Nation’s, habit of using the bleeding obvious name for a planet – Aridius? Must be dry. Hydra? Must have water (or people fighting SHIELD). There’s also – and I had to go back to The Keys of Marinus to check this – a similar use of incidental music in this to the original; listening to the play, it did feel slightly excessive, and not a little unusual, but the style is similar, if not the amount. The new series clearly feels the need to underscore virtually the entire episode; it’s not necessary and hopefully this is an exception.
There are some great performances from the three guest cast – you’d honestly believe there were a lot more than five people involved in total – and more than a few moments where the combination of soundscape, script, direction and acting create such an impression in your mind’s eye that it will make you believe you have actually seen the story unfold.
Verdict: A very strong start to this new series. 9/10